“To serve and care – before, during and beyond”

Nordic-Baltic Veterans Conference 2012.
Opening speech by Defence Minister Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen.


6 November 2012

Dear participants,

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to welcome you to Oslo and to the first Nordic-Baltic conference on veterans. Many of you have travelled far, and I especially would like to welcome our participants from the other Nordic and Baltic countries. This is a conference for professionals and specialists in our region, and as such it is an historic event.

During the next two days we are going to focus on those who participate in international operations, be it soldiers, policemen, doctors, judges or others. We will give attention to all those who are willing to put themselves in danger to promote peace and security on behalf of their nation.

In the defence sector we often tend to put great emphasis on capabilities. We often talk about advanced weapon systems, frigates and fighter aircraft. We invest and restructure in order to uphold our security needs at home and abroad.

However, these efforts are in vain if we are incapable of recruiting the best men and women to our Armed Forces. It is the mindsets, the values and the competence of our men and women that will ultimately determine our success. Our investments and restructuring efforts will pay off only if we adhere to a personnel policy that enables us to attract and retain these capable men and women.

I have met many brave young men and women that make a contribution on behalf of all of us. I have met them in Afghanistan and in the Balkans. And I have met them when they safely arrive home. Yes, safe and secure, but not necessarily unaffected by their experiences.

As politician and as a mother, these meetings make a deep impression. I certainly did not walk away unaffected. You discover that in a strong military unit about to be dissolved, there might be a few individuals that still find themselves in peril. The return to a normal life is opening a wealth of emotions. For some reworking their experiences, it becomes a vicious circle. "You forget what you want to remember, and you remember what you want to forget", as the American novelist Cormac McCarthy has put it.

In my previous term as Minister of Defence, we made a complete re-haul of our veteran policy. We did this because we recognized that over the years this area had been neglected. And we did this because we, as politicians, are responsible for sending our soldiers to places to promote our values and political goals.

This responsibility does not end as you wish them goodbye. We have a continuing responsibility. We have an obligation to support veterans that require help and care in the aftermath of international service.

This is a responsibility that rests with our entire society, not only the defence sector. These people are sent out on behalf of their country, to establish safety and security for all of us. Thus, we have a common responsibility to take good care of them before, during and in the aftermath of a mission. Hence effective co-operation is needed on the national, regional and local level. All sectors have to contribute, because the veterans have a range of different needs. Therefore it is so important that the government stands behind the work with veterans. The six ministries that are most affected, have adopted an action plan constituting the backbone of our joint efforts.

Together we must ensure that we treat our veterans well. They all deserve our deepest gratitude and recognition. But, they deserve more than that. John F. Kennedy once said "As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them."

Our veterans are entitled to a system that can provide them with support and advice. Financially, medically or in other ways – we, as society and as individuals, owe it to them. It is a political obligation as well as a moral responsibility we all should pursue.

In Norway, we have made some important achievements in this field. Today, the veterans receive more attention from the society than was the case only a few years ago. The relevant ministries are much more aware of our common responsibility. We will proceed with our work. And we will remain ambitious.

The aim of this conference should be as ambitious. We are going to ask ourselves important questions; do they, veterans or civilians, receive the acknowledgment they deserve? Are we providing them with the service and care they need? Should we do more for their families? Do we sufficiently value and utilise their skills when they return? Again, it is important to ask ourselves questions as these. Today we do this for the first time in a Nordic-Baltic context.

Our Nordic and Baltic countries are small. In a globalized world, we are vulnerable to international conflicts. Thus, it is in our interest to promote democracy, human rights, stable regimes and peaceful coexistence worldwide. We are applying diplomatic and political means. And, sometimes, if a situation should call for it, we may be willing to apply military force as well.

The decision to participate in an international military operation is difficult and so it should be. It is a choice that no executive should take with ease. Soldiers and civilians are sent out to do their work in what might be dangerous situations. The conditions may be exceptionally demanding. Ultimately, they must be prepared to risk their life.

Our veterans, as well as civilians, should be recognized for their unique experiences, knowledge and skills. They should be honoured for their endurance and ability to make difficult decisions under severe circumstances. They all possess capabilities that should be appreciated more than they are. We should find new ways of taking advantage of their unique experiences.

Nordic-Baltic co-operation becomes increasingly important to us, and has great potential for further development. Together we are stronger. We have many things in common; geography, culture and much more. This is a good basis for further co-operation.

I wish you good luck with this important conference. I am convinced it will result in new ideas, new ways of working and new areas of co-operation. And last, but not least, I hope you will have a good time, enjoy some good meals and experience some pleasant cultural events.

Thank you very much for your attention. 

 

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